The key strategy to turning direct-mail constituents into major-gift donors is stewardship, says Karen Osborne, president of full-service consulting firm The Osborne Group.
Stewardship is “more than sending out a thank-you note,” Osborne says. It is an addition to the suite of things an organization does through direct mail -- such as adding impact statements in a post-thank-you touch that communicate the difference a donor’s gift made.
“The thank-you is just, ‘this is what we promise to do with your money.’ Stewardship is, ‘this is in fact what we did with your money.’ It’s the delivery on the promise,” Osborne says.
For new donors, it can take the form of a phone call welcoming them to your organization’s family. For large organizations with tons of donors, segment the donors you steward in this way by gift level, so it’s manageable. Smaller organizations might be able to call every donor.
Osborne recommends sending donors a non-ask piece letting them know the outcome or result of their gift to your organization. She cites the example of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, a United Kingdom-based organization dedicated to stopping child abuse, which decided to add stewardship to its direct-mail program. The organization identified an older, boomer-aged woman with children and grandchildren who had been working with the organization for 15 years to be the voice of its stewardship. NSPCC sent a note from her in which she told donors who she was and that they would be hearing from her from time to time on what’s happening with the organization, how it’s fulfilling its mission and how the donors’ gifts are helping.
Along with this announcement, the organization sent a brochure with a picture of a small, stuffed bunny with a note that said, “Thank you again for giving comfort to a child.” Osborne says NSPCC saw an immediate jump in gifts after sending this mailing.
“Providing stewardship to direct-mail donors is probably the biggest single thing that you can do to create a climate for me to want to give you more. It will increase giving, it’ll increase donor retention, and it sets up a climate for being open to major gifts,” she says.
Osborne also recommends data mining, where you look at your pool of donors to see who has given to your organization for the most years, who gave at a certain threshold — perhaps $100 — and segment them. Wealth screening is another strategy. You can hire a firm that screens your direct-mail donors for those with the highest wealth capacity and philanthropic profile. Devise different ways to engage and reach out to these segments, leading with stewardship.
Invite one segment to a phone session where they will hear from the organization’s CEO about some of the things that are happening within the organization. Give donors an opportunity to ask questions by e-mail or phone. Send another pool of donors a survey and explain that your organization really wants to understand its donors, then ask them to take a few minutes to answer some questions. For another pool, perhaps do the survey on the phone.
World Vision Canada, an organization that helps impoverished and malnourished children around the world, has a lot of direct-mail donors and raises a lot of money via direct mail. It decided to personally call donors who had given $1,500 or more. The stewardship program began with two phone callers calling and building relationships with these direct-mail donors. They called them and thanked them. They called them back several months into the relationship to share with them the impact of their gifts, and let them know what’s going on with the organization. And each step of the way they asked relationship-building questions and listened to the answers.
“They close major gifts right on the phone because people are so appreciative of the contact. People are so appreciative of them reaching out,” Osborne says. “So it’s getting as personal as you can in a big program.”
Karen Osborne can be reached via www.theosbornegroup.com